Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Art of Medieval French Romance

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

The Art of Medieval French Romance

Article excerpt

Douglas Kelly, The Art of Medieval French Romance (Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992). xvi + 473 pp. ISBN 0-299-1310-4. L49.95

This detailed, scholarly study encourages the non-anachronistic reading of medieval French romance by attempting to reconstruct a historically valid literary theory with which to judge medieval practice. Aware that the narrator is not always an authorial mouthpiece and that some interventions are scribal, Professor Kelly judiciously assembles an impressive collection of auctorial pronouncements and compares them to the surviving medieval theory: Latin arts of poetry and the accessus ad auctores. His examples are taken from a wide range of vernacular romances in verse and prose from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, though mostly from the earlier Middle Ages. In order to devise a vocabulary for medieval literary theory Kelly defines and employs Latin and Old French terms for which he finds no modern equivalent. This sometimes leads to difficult macaronic sentences, especially in the first three chapters. However, only the casual reader will be deterred, for this is a work of scholarship that repays attentive reading. The following issues are treated: compositional structure (conjointure), narrative invention (including the literary and historiographic paradigms at the romancer's disposal), the ordering of parts in a romance, and the amplification of subject matter by means of topical invention. Kelly thus analyses the tensions between tradition and originality and between historical and topical truth found in romance. Especially useful are his discussions of the semantic range of terms such as conte, estoire, roman, matiere, and sen, although he cites few occurrences of the term roman designating a definable genre. The section on matiere and sen places the critical debates concerning the meaning of sen(s) in the Charrete and Lais prologues fruitfully in context; the word with two of its meanings - a person's wit or a subject's meaning - occurring often in other romance prologues.

One could take issue with Kelly's emphasis on the importance of Chretien and his interpretation of the term conjointure in the Erec prologue. …

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